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Bardia to Enfidaville

The Terrain

page 154

The Terrain

SOUTH and south-east of Tripoli an escarpment, almost a range of hills, trends from the coast near Homs in a long crescent that swings in a half-circle to the west and ends just south of Gabes. This escarpment forms the southern limit of a coastal plain, some 80 miles at its widest, between Nalut and the sea. From Foum Tatahouine northwards the range is known as Monts des Ksour, popularly called the Matmata Hills, the north-western end terminating at Djebel Melab. Between the Matmata Hills and the sea the north-western end of the coastal plain steadily narrows, and in the hills and across the plain ran the Mareth Line from Toujane to the sea.

The Matmata Hills run generally north and south. Behind them to the west a stretch of desert country, known as the Dahar, runs parallel to the hills from near Nalut, with the village of Ksar Rhilane towards the northern end. Farther west lies a stretch of impassable sand desert, the Grand Erg Oriental. The northern end of the Dahar merges into a long series of salt marshes known as Chotts, the most easterly of which is entitled Chott Djerid, with an eastern extension named Chott el Fedjadj. South of and parallel to Chott el Fedjadj is a long ridge lying east and west—the Djebel Tebaga—which continues northwards as a low watershed separating the Chotts from the coastal strip. This strip, about 15 miles from Gabes, was the Gabes Gap, better known to Eighth Army as the Wadi Akarit position, from the wadi flowing north-eastwards between the watershed and the sea.

Between Djebel Tebaga and Djebel Melab a low pass runs from the Dahar to the coastal plain south-west of Gabes. This is the Tebaga Gap.1 It is about four miles long in its narrowest section and is passable for infantry and tanks over a width of about three and a half miles between the two djebels, although wheeled vehicles, generally speaking, must use the tracks. A force entering the Dahar from the coastal plain farther south could find its way back to the coast through this pass.

1 See map facing p. 153.